Let me start by saying that I used to be a huge fan of Woody Allen movies. In the late 1970s and 1980s, I would make a point of seeing his annual release as soon as it came out.
But I could never quite see him in the same light again after the scandal in 1992 when he left Mia Farrow for their adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn when she was 21 and he was 56. I don’t think of myself as prudish, but I lost respect for him and all those scenes in his films where an attractive young woman falls for an older guy suddenly took on a more squalid aspect. I found I couldn’t enjoy his movies the way I once did.
I was ,however, fully prepared to overcome my prejudices and join the throng who are raving about his latest movie, Midnight In Paris. This has received universal critical acclaim and is even tipped as a possible Oscar winner.
But I have to count myself in a minority here as I found the movie shallow, smug and deeply irritating.
One thing that I hated from the word go was the way Owen Wilson has adopted all the verbal mannerisms of Woody Allen. I was even convinced that the voiceover at the start was Allen. I’m surprised that Wilson wasn’t also made to wear black-rimmed spectacles.
I also loathed the rose-tinted portrait of Paris which makes the shots look like air-brushed postcards and eliminates anything which detracts from its perfect veneer. Nothing of the contemporary metropolis is allowed to intrude on this fake, lovestruck representation of the city.
Martin Sheen is pretty good as the obnoxious “pseudo-intellectual” , Paul Bates, who sees himself as an ‘expert’ on everything and prefaces all his pedantic statements with “If I’m not mistaken………….” But the film is not about intellectuals, pseudo or otherwise, but is instead a lightweight tale of a Hollywood screenwriter who dreams of writing a successful novel (I wonder how Allen comes up such original ideas?!).
This writer, Gil Pender, finds a worm hole that allows him to travel in time to the ‘golden age’ of Paris in the 1920s. After the first journey into the past he repeats the experience on successive nights although it’s never clear how long he’s there for and how he returns to the present. You may argue that such details aren’t necessary in a fantasy, but even when the audience is called upon to collectively suspend their disbelief there needs to be some alternative, twisted logic at work. In movies like Peggy Sue Got Married, 17 Again and Back To The Future there is a premise and context that you can easily buy into.
In Woody Allen’s scheme of things it is as if Gill is so besotted with the ‘golden age’ that just wishing he was there makes it so. He makes one half-hearted attempt to take his fiancé with him but doesn’t try again even when he has realised that midnight is the bewitching hour; this probably because he’s taken a fancy to Picasso’s latest bit on the side Adriana (Marion Cotillard).
The notion that the trips to the idealised past world are a figment of an over-excited imagination can be discounted because, late in the movie a private detective is able to follow him.
Gil meets the crème de la crème of the Parisian artistic community but we learn nothing about these artists that couldn’t be gleaned from half an hour surfing Wikipedia. Salvador Dali says “I’m Dali”, Pablo Picasso, F.Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway are referred to by their surnames lest the audience gets confused. And in case it’s slipped our memory, Allen kindly reminds us that Dali and Picasso were painters while Fitzgerald and Hemingway were writers.
If the point of this jaunt into an earlier age is to show how we tend to over-romanticise the creativity and art of an earlier age, then Allen’s movie does nothing to correct this fallacy. He doesn’t even take the opportunity to make any jokes about the different perceptions or experiences about past and present. In short, the movie just shuffles along without saying anything other than that Paris is as amazing now as it was then.
Back in the real world, Gil discovers that his wife is having an affair with the know-all Bates but straight away gets off with a young French girl about half his age (quelle surprise!) and they walk off into the French rain with the Eiffel Tower lit up in the background.
If I’m not mistaken………..Midnight In Paris sucks.